Picking the best burger in America is impossible. There are just too many variables — from bun texture to sauces to cheese choice to the varying patties. There are a few things we think a great burger needs, like a soft buttery toasted and slightly sweet bun, then someone throws a burger on some fry bread and all bets are off. Fact is, burgers contain multitudes. They can be amazing with melty and very processed American cheese and with crumbly piquant blue cheese.
That adaptability makes burgers both amazing and almost unquantifiable.It’s a fascinating aspect of the form.
Yet, here we are. We’re picking the best burgers in America, one for every single state in the Union. We’ve also added Washington, DC to the mix. The city has a dope burger scene that deserves our attention and respect. In the end, we were able to shake out the burgers that you have to at least try if you’re in the area. Some are greasy, others are cheffed up, and they’re all f*cking delicious.
ALABAMA: Vicki’s Lunch Van, Montgomery
Let’s get out of the (chef) stars for a moment and come back down to earth. Vicki’s Lunch Van started as a literal van by the side of the road. The burgers were so good that they had to move into a burger shack to keep up with demand. Even now that they’ve expanded, you should expect a serious wait time when you go to Vicki’s.
Well-executed simplicity is the name of the game here. Vicki’s burgers aren’t breaking any new barriers. They’re just delicious and that’s more than enough. The local beef is ground on site and then flattened on the grill top to a superb thinness, which allows a nice crispiness to form around the juicy meat. Tangy mayo, crunchy cucumber chips, bright iceberg, fresh tomato, and spicy-sweet onions round out the burger. From there you can add some crisp bacon and plenty of melty American cheese. It’s a classic done right.
We highly recommend getting here early. The line will be long. We also tend to lean more towards ordering a classic cheeseburger here and letting it shine instead of opting for a more complicated entry. It’s simple, delicious, and hugely satisfying.
ALASKA: West Rib Pub & Grill, Talkeetna
Talkeetna is one of those quirky Alaskan towns that might give you flashbacks to 90s TV highwater-mark series Northern Exposure. It’s a small town in a place that’s distinctly wild where a hippy vibe meets a survivalist will. That comes through in the food at West Rib Pub & Grill. The whole place feels like a waystation for adventurers looking to get a little lost in the Alaskan backcountry and the food is staggeringly nourishing.
Since this is Alaska, the caribou (venison) Burger is definitely the one to order. The burger comes with the standards of lettuce, tomato, and onion with a big ol’ crunchy pickle spear and beer battered fries. That’s totally large cut fries dipped in fish and chip beer batter and then deep fried. Yes, they’re amazing.
If you’re not sure about diving into a venison burger, maybe try a classic Denali burger that’s got two big ass burger patties with two slices of both American and Swiss cheese plus the usual fixings. Then, we’d recommend being a little adventurous and trying a cup of the Caribou chili on the side.
ARIZONA: The Stand: Burger & Tacos, Phoenix & Scottsdale
The Stand is a super simple walk-up burger bar with an easy to parse menu that slings some of the best burgers you’ll eat in Arizona. This place is awesome and cheap. A cheeseburger is only $5.99 and tastes like it could easily cost $15 if it was in a famous chef’s restaurant.
Everything is on point there. The meat is cooked to moist perfection with a nice, umami crispiness seared on. The lettuce is green and every so slightly wilted. The tomatoes and onions are always the perfect thinness. The burger sauce is tangy and also serves as a great fry dipping sauce.
Overall, this is just a great burger every single time. It’s satisfying and comforting without being overly messy due to its well-balanced construction.
ARKANSAS: Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie, Bentonville
High Southern cuisine in Arkansas is taking off — thanks, in part, to Chef Rob Nelson. Nelson’s local and sustainable-focused Tusk & Trotter is an example of great southern cuisine done with heart and a conscious effort towards making the industry a better place. It should come as no surprise that Nelson also makes a damn fine burger.
Tusk & Trotter’s burgers are cheffed up without being overwrought. The choices of bison, lamb, or beef (all from the area) make for a nice nuance in choice. The buns are locally baked and so buttery and light. Housemade chipotle aioli and pickles add the perfectly tangy and umami-spicy punch to the burgers. The sauteed onions, mushrooms, and peppers add crunch and sweetness alongside the wonderfully dense mushroom savoriness. These are good burgers, people.
If you haven’t tried a lamb burger yet, try their “Teeree” Burger. Local ground lamb is topped with fresh feta, a heap of pickled vegetables, and a sharp and tangy horseradish remoulade. It’s a flavor bomb in bread.
CALIFORNIA: In-N-Out Burger, Statewide
This a hard choice. First, California is so goddamn vast that it almost seems unfair to bundle all the regions into one entry. But, here we are. And, yes, we’re picking In-N-Out and we have reasons.
Reason one: Anthony Bourdain waxed poetic about the beauty that is the Double Double Animal Style (and he was right, btw). The In-N-Out by LAX was always his first stop when he landed on the Left Coast. In fact, it was the only restaurant he wished was in New York that wasn’t. So, you have to respect that shit.
Reason two: In-N-Out reps all of Cali. You can get it all over the state; so you don’t have to drag your ass to some random town to find a Double Double. Plus, there are few restaurants and few burgers that are more symbolic of California than In-N-Out and a Double Double Animal Style. Sh*t is iconic.
At the end of the day, In-N-Out makes a seriously delicious burger. Two umami-bomb patties are grilled to perfection (make sure to ask for them grilled with mustard). There’s plenty of melted American cheese with grilled onions piled high. Then there’s In-N-Out’s tangy burger sauce, super crispy iceberg, and bright red tomato all on a grill-top-toasted buttered bun. Grab a shake and you’ll be set.
COLORADO: Bud’s Cafe & Bar, Sedalia
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a state that has legal, recreational cannabis also has amazing burgers at every turn. Bud’s Cafe — which is assuredly a dive bar — has a great, simple burger and we love it.
Ordering is easy at Bud’s, you’re asked “cheese or no cheese” and “single or double.” That’s all you need to worry about. You’re then served a spectacular burger patty that’s expertly grilled, topped with a slice of crisp white onion, tangy cucumber chips, a slightly funky burger sauce, a sublime buttery toasted bun, and jalapenos on the side (in case you want to spice it up a bit).
If you’re heading south from Denver, make this your lunch stop … every time.
CONNECTICUT: The Whelk, Westport
We have to go with another seafood joint in Connecticut. We know it seems weird but bear with us. The Whelk has taken the time to execute a masterpiece burger amongst a fantastic array of seafood dishes. Yes, it’s that good.
The Dry-Aged Cheeseburger on The Whelk menu is wonderous. The beef is local and processed in-house. The cheese is from a local dairy, Bella Batam. The pickles are homemade and perfectly funky. The bacon is hefty, smoky, and crispy with a little meaty give to it. The onion mayo has a great balance of tang and earthy spice. The whole thing is served on a buttery toasted brioche with a light application of finely shredded iceberg. It’s dope.
That’s the only burger The Whelk does. And, honestly, they don’t need to do another because they’ve mastered a well-crafted and delicious burger already. There’s nothing left to do here except enjoy it.
DELAWARE: Kid Shelleen’s, Wilmington
Delaware is another state with great taverns and dive bars offering rad burgers in chilled out settings where you can get as drunk as you want after a nourishing nosh. Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Saloon bridges classic burgers with interesting craft so well we had to make it our pick.
The burger patties here shine. The thickness is real and means you get a super juicy burger that’s charcoal grilled adding a nice smokey infusion. The “LeBus” rolls are buttered and toasted exactly. Then there are the toppings. If you can think of cheese to put on your burger, they have it. There’s also a great and fascinating range of spicy and sweet sauces: beer cheese sauce, tomato-bacon-bleu cheese relish, mustard-chili pepper relish, tomato-chili pepper jam, black mission fig jam just to name a few. It’s diverse and it works.
They’ve got vegetarians covered with the Beyond Meat patty ready to be swapped out at any time. If you’re looking for something especially fresh, grab the Ranchero burger with a runny fried egg, spicy salsa verde, jalapeño jack, avocado, red onion, and a super fresh pico de gallo. It’s a delight.
FLORIDA: Burgers and Shakes, Miami Beach
It feels like it’d be easy to go with an over-stuffed and cheffed-up burger in Miami Beach. But let’s stick with a classic. Burgers & Shakes, right across from the beach, is really just a burger joint that serves great, nostalgia-driven burgers.
The potato buns, fresh ground beef, simple iceberg, white onion, tomato, cucumber chip, and tangy house sauce all combine to make a classic burger that gets the job done. Sometimes that’s enough. The B&S burger adds some smokey bacon and a nice, runny egg to the mix with melty provolone tying it all together. They aren’t reinventing the wheel here. They’re taking tried-and-true components and knocking them straight outta the park.
Add a rad shake and some seriously awesome onion rings to the mix and you’ve got a delight of burger meal. This might be the only place where we’d recommend getting their sliders (we know, sliders are dumb in theory and practice). The mini-burgers are served on a milky, sweet challah roll that absolutely makes them burger shine even more brightly.
GEORGIA: Empire State South, Atlanta
Chef Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South is another bucket list destination for its amazing takes on southern classics. Chef Acheson’s burgers are right up there with Husk’s and Au Cheval’s when it comes to nearing perfection in the medium of the burger. There’s an artistry at play here that never overwhelms a simple truth: Burgers are supposed to be amazingly delicious first and foremost, everything else is showmanship.
Empire State South’s burgers focus on local, seasonal, and sustainable. The “burger” is usually only served on the lunch menu (though, insiders do get a double cheeseburger service post-dinner rush). The meat is grilled so exactly you’ll wonder what alchemy Acheson has unlocked in the simple art of cooking meat. The Japanese milk bun is so soft and ever so slightly sweet with the perfect toasted layer. The local cheddar, housemade pickles, and “fancy” sauce further the wonder of this minimalistic, yet profound burger.
Look, if you had to do a blind taste test between this, Husk’s, and Au Cheval’s you’d be hard pressed (sorry) to choose a winner. It’d likely come down to mood — since flavor, texture, and construction are almost all infallible across these three burgers. It’s time to hit up the ATL and find this burger as quickly as you can.
HAWAII: Burgers and Things, Honolulu
Finding a good burger in Hawaii might mean trekking out to a shack on the roadside for deliverance. And that’s 100 percent true of our pick for the Polynesian island. You’ll find Burgers and Things while heading out of Honolulu along the Pali Highway. It’s a small joint that serves some seriously delicious burgers.
The menu at this place isn’t vast, but it is varied. You can get a local venison, lamb, beef, wagyu beef, or turkey on your burger. They grill the meat and braise it in jus, which is a nice touch. The wagyu burger is cooked by braising it in a mustard grain beef jus. That’s just delectable. And the toppings are legit. Slow-cooked braised mushrooms, cranberry chipotle, bacon, apple, and maple jam, honey pesto, pineapple chutney. It’s unique and works on every level.
If you’re looking for something a little easier, try the straightforward Juicy Burger (still braised in beef jus) or the Teri Burger. That one is braised and then slathered in housemade teriyaki sauce. It’s a sweet and umami tangy mess of burger brilliance.
IDAHO: The Brakeman American Grill, Victor
Grabbing a burger in Idaho is a pretty easy task. There are plenty of dive bars, burger shacks, and breweries slinging great burgers around the state. We have to go with an old-school bar in the small town of Victor that butts up against the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. This is smalltown food done supremely well.
The burgers at The Brakeman are all good, so picking one is hard. The menu has great venison (elk), bison, and veggie burgers, but it’s the classic cheeseburger that really shines. The beef is all brought in fresh and processed in-house. The red onion is sliced a little on the thick side. The tomatoes are fresh and bright. The sauce is just a tangy mayo. The lettuce has a hint of bitter green freshness to it. In a nice twist, they use Colby Jack which has a great melting point and adds a nice cheesy heft.
It’s simple burger that’s done just right. If you want a little more, try the Union Pacific Burger with plenty of crispy bacon and heaps of blue cheese.
ILLINOIS: Au Cheval, Chicago
If there is perfection in the burger world, Au Cheval has found it. The expertly appointed classic American diner in Chicago is a bucket list food destination without its burger. But it’s their limited menu cheeseburgers that have come to define the eatery. It might just be the best burger in America. Seriously. The burger is so popular that it spawned the Au Cheval sibling Small Cheval to deal with how good and in demand their burgers are.
Maybe it’s the atmosphere of Au Cheval, maybe it’s the expertly crafted bar menu, but Au Cheval is that hair above Small Cheval. The burger is so exact without feeling overwrought it’s almost unbelievable. The meat is cooked exactly. The cheese is melted just so. The bun is buttered and toasted to a point of precision that feels almost supernatural. One bite of this burger and you’ll never be the same.
Then you can add an expertly executed runny fried egg and some thick cut bacon that feels like succulent pork belly by way of a Kentucky hickory forest and, just… wow. Is your mouth watering yet? Look, hyperbole aside, this burger is the mountaintop of great American burgers. Next time you’re in the City by the Lake, make sure to hit Au Cheval at least twice. Or, hit up Small Cheval at the very least.
INDIANA: The Workingman’s Friend, Indianapolis
Indianapolis has a strong burger scene that hits a lot of sweet spots. The Workingman’s Friend is old school spot (it’s officially been around 100 years) that also offers a wholly unique burger. This place is a no-frills, working-class burger joint that has an amazingly welcoming staff. Their grill top flattened burger is a thin patty masterpiece.
Their method of smashing the burger into the grill to flatten it out adds a wonderful crispiness. Almost miraculously, the burger patties are thin and crispy while still being juicy and soft. You definitely want to order a double though — especially if you’re used to thick cut burgers. The melted American cheese is put on just at the right moment for maximum meltiness. The shredded iceberg, white onion, tomato, and pickle are classicly prepped and add a nice crunch, spice, and tang. The buns are toasted off on the grill delivering an umami flavor bomb right into the soft bread.
You can add some bacon if you want, but it’s not really necessary here. The thin patties are already amped to eleven when it comes to savory flavor. You can also order a double with an extra bun bottom in the middle of the burger a la a Bob’s Big Boy or BigMac. Seriously, this is a great burger, people.
IOWA: Cafe Beaudelaire, Ames
This might sound a little crazy, but the best burger in Iowa is at a Brazilian restaurant that has four burgers on its menu. But, alas, it’s true. The Brazilian restaurant has mastered the art of the burger and slings them right alongside plates of feijoada.
The burger at Cafe Beaudelaire has a crispy and moist patty that hits the perfect mark between not-too-thin and not-too-thick. The buns are buttered and grill top toasted, soaking up all those grill-y flavors from the day. Their paprika mayo has a nice, earthy kick to it. The choice of Muenster and mozzarella cheese is another nice pick that makes their burgers rise above.
Add on grilled peppers, maybe some avo, and crisp lettuce, tomatoes, and onions and you have a winning burger. Also, don’t sleep on their potato wedges with a little of that spicy mayo. It’s the perfect side.
KANSAS: The Burger Stand at the Casbah, Lawrence
Lawrence, Kansas, is probably best known as the home base of Supernatural’s Sam and Dean Winchester at this point. Ghost hunting brothers aside, Lawrence is also home to one of the best burgers around thanks to The Burger Stand at the Casbah.
The Burger stand focuses in on local ingredients to make their burgers as tasty as humanly possible. Their menu varies greatly thanks to also focusing on what’s available seasonally. Their classic burger hits all the sweet spots with a great, thick burger patty cooked to perfection, a great bun for delivery, and local greens that add plenty of crunch.
Where the burger joint really shines in their detailed orientated sauces and accents. Their chipotle cocoa ketchup is a revelation. The habanero cactus jam on the Fire burger will have you tinkering in your kitchen trying to replicate it. These are ingenious, high-end burgers in a super casual hometown setting.
KENTUCKY: Proof On Main, Louisville
Louisville has one of the fastest growing food scenes in America. Proof On Main is a great example of that scene with a clear focus on local purveyors that provide lush ingredients. Their bison burger, sourced from a nearby Kentuckian herd, is one of the best burgers going right now.
The burger’s sesame brioche bun is airy and buttery. The bison patty is cooked to succulent, ruddy perfection with a nice minerality and seared umami Maillard texture. Super finely shredded iceberg accents with a refreshing crunch. The pickle and smoked bacon amp the sandwich up to eleven. And, lastly, the Tillamook sharp cheddar brings it all home (we know, Oregon is a long way from Kentucky, but Tillamook cheeses are always a strong choice). This burger is straight fire. The robust flavor of the bison patty really will have you questioning all the factory-farmed beef you’ve eaten.
If you’re in Kentucky (or southern Ohio for that matter), make sure to hit up Proof on Main for one of the best burgers in the country. It may even be the best bison burger in the nation right now. Go and test it and let us know!
LOUISIANA: Port of Call, New Orleans
It’s hard to think of New Orleans and not think of plates piled high and cocktails filled to the brim. Food is such a big part of, well, everything down there and that’s crucial when it comes to finding a great burger.
Louisiana’s best burger, by a country mile, is at Port of Call in New Orleans. Port of Call’s in-house ground burger has a lot going for it. The biggest and most inventive change from a classic is the cheese. They use shredded sharp cheddar and apply as they serve the burger. The little shards of cheese then slowly melt as you eat the burger providing layered, cheesy texture to the whole experience. It’s rad. The mushroom burger shines the brightest — with a pile of umami-bomb mushrooms spilling out of the bun and across your plate.
Then there’s the side. We’ve been trying to avoid talking too much about burger sides in this series because this is burger town, baby. But Port of Call needs a special mention. They serve their big ol’ burgers with a big ol’ baked potato that’s loaded to the gills with all the fixin’s — including another pile of shredded sharp cheddar. At first glance, you likely think this is potato overkill. It’s not. Once you have a baked potato side with a burger, it’ll be damn near impossible to go back to plain old fries.
MAINE: Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, Portland
Maine has a lot going for it in the burger department. It’s a cold weather state where a calorie bomb like a burger is much needed to survive the ice and snow. It’s also one of the best spots in the U.S. for fresh seafood. That’s why we’re choosing a fish house as our pick.
The Nob Burger at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room is pure fire. Any fish house can throw a burger on its menu for picky eaters and that’ll be that. Boone’s take it up a notch by not only perfectly executing a good burger; they also top it with fried oysters. It’s a big win. The crunchy, briny, fried oysters add a brilliant dimension to the burger, along with crispy smoked bacon and a spicy mayo.
This is a burger that’ll change how you assemble burgers. And, yes, you’ll start craving fried oysters on your burger from the moment you finish.
MARYLAND: Addie’s, Potomac
Addie’s only has two burgers on their menu. That’s confidence right there and we respect it. We also respect the fact that these burgers are just plain excellent.
That excellence starts with locally-sourced beef patties. They’re the perfect thickness for the type of restaurant burger this is. It’s seared, juicy, and well-seasoned. The bun is a handmade sesame that’s fresh, light, and ever-so-slightly sweet. The toppings are easy and executed with exactness; caramelized onions, roasted cremini mushrooms, and smoked shallot aioli truly shine.
It’s hard to know which burger to pick at Addie’s. They’re both quality sandwiches. We have to go with the rich umami and sweet caramelized onion Deluxe Burger. It’s an excellent amalgam of umami, savory, sweet alongside a great textural construction of crunchy, soft, and firm. Wins all around.
MASSACHUSETTS: Alden & Harlow, Cambridge
This was a contentious pick. There are a lot of good dive bars serving down-and-dirty burgers in Massachusetts. But, we had to go high end here. The “Secret Burger” at Alden & Harlow is just too good to deny.
Everything about this burger is local and well thought out. The bun is made in-house. The meat is all from the area and ground in the kitchen. The pickles are unique, tangy, and damn near perfect. The sauce has a umami and tangy balance that feels right.
The fun wrinkle that really makes this one stand out is that you’re never really sure what you’re ordering. Just when you’ve gotten used to the burger as is, they completely change it up. Suddenly there’s a fruity chutney and parmesan crisp or eggs and slaw. It’s always a surprise and always delicious.
MICHIGAN: Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, Big Rapids
Michigan has a lot of options when it comes to a great burger. Picking just one feels like a fool’s errand and here we are being that fool. We have to go with the friendly dive bar that makes some of the most seriously delicious burgers in the whole state, Schuberg’s Bar & Grill.
The “Schu” burgers at this famed spot are like mini temples to the cult of the burger. The brioche buns are buttery toasted masterpieces. The meat is expertly ground and seasoned — always juicy and lush. Then the toppings come and you know you’re in good hands at Schuberg’s. The lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles are just a smidge on the thicker side and that amps up both the textural crunch and counterpoint to the fatty butter, cheese, and meat.
If you order your burger with the “works,” expect the lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard, pickles, onion, and green olives. This little ripple in the burger toppings world is a nice surprise that’ll have you putting green olives on your burger for years to come.
MINNESOTA: Matt’s Bar, Minneapolis
Sometimes you have to go classic. There’s no more classic burger in Minnesota than the famed Juicy Lucy from Matt’s Bar. This burger might feel like a throwback, but its inventiveness still influences burger chefs around the world. The innovation? The cheese is in the burger when it’s grilled and oozes out as you eat. It’s fantastic.
Matt’s Bar is more than the novelty. The burgers are legit. The tangy sauce, crunchy pickle, and diced grilled onions are top notch. There’s also a sense of history here that makes this burger a bucket list meal for burger aficionados.
The only thing that seems off is that the bun isn’t toasted. But then you bite into the burger and all that cheesy goodness comes pouring out and you realize that the bun doesn’t need that buttery toasted feel.
MISSISSIPPI: Neon Pig, Oxford
A trip to Oxford, Mississippi is a must for any road tripping American. The town is the home of a deeply influential literary scene, music scene, and, low key, has one of the best food scenes in the South. Neon Pig is a butcher shop where local and sustainable are cornerstones of serving people great food. And guess what else? Their very small butchershop menu has the best burgers in the state, hands down.
Neon Pig’s “Smashburger” has no business being as fantastic as it is — we are, after all, talking about a small cafe inside a butcher shop here. The burger patty is a combo of aged filet, sirloin, ribeye, NY strip, and local bacon ground into a wonderous patty. That’s served on the airiest ciabatta (!) bun you’ll ever encounter. The burger is then topped with, frankly, the best-pickled onions and pickles you’ll find outside of a Jewish deli somewhere on the Lower Eastside. Cheddar cheese is melted on top with more local bacon and a “comeback” sauce that’s been spiked with hoisin. This is a burger you’ll dream about for years to come.
We’ve focused a lot on chefs making mind-blowing burgers in this section. But maybe it’s a couple of butchers who are the real masters.
MISSOURI: Blueberry Hill, St. Louis
We have to go with a historical institution for Missouri. Blueberry Hill helped restore St. Louis’ famed Loop when it opened back in the 1970s. Their success allowed the spot to grow into St. Louis’ best burger restaurant and, eventually, one of the city’s most important music venues. Chuck Berry played 200 shows here. Through all of that Blueberry Hill has been slinging the best burgers in the state.
The burgers here aren’t about craft innovation or “cheffing things up.” The burgers at Blueberry Hill are about taking the classic components of a burger and executing them perfectly. The sesame seed bun is toasted just right. The burger patty is seasoned and grilled exactly the same, every time. The crunch of the lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle hit the sweet spot. The cheese choices are great melting cheeses (Pepper Jack, American, etc). The extra toppings are all you really need: bacon, jalapenos, grilled onions, queso, dope chili.
Grab a beer or an old fashioned, put a Chuck Berry tune on the jukebox, and enjoy the best burger in Missouri.
MONTANA: The Burger Dive, Billings
Billings, Montana, has a very “lost in time” feel to it. It still seems like a frontier town. Right in the middle of downtown Billings, you’ll find a little hole-in-the-wall called The Burger Dive. The unassuming joint is all atmosphere. You’ll hear the miles long trains rattle by on the tracks just a block away as you eat one of the best burgers in the country.
What makes the Burger Dive’s burgers so damn good is the attention to detail and inventiveness. Their “award-winning” I’ll Be Your Huckleberry Burger (great name) stacks local, in-house worked beef with huckleberry Hitachi chili sauce, funky goat cheese, arugula, and roasted pepper mayo. It’s an umami bomb with a wicked earthy spicy kick that just works. This burger is why we all need to be paying better attention to Montana’s food scene, especially since that scene’s biggest champion, legendary author Jim Harrison, has passed.
The menu at The Burger Dive is one of the most varied in the country (the Roast Garlic burger is fire). So, if you find yourself wandering through the great plains and hit Billings, you may want to schedule in at least two trips to eat.
NEBRASKA: Honest Abe’s, Lincoln
Honest Abe’s in a modernist hole-in-the-wall in Lincoln. The decor may feel new but the food is classic. This a burger joint where the fundamentals of a great burger are celebrated right alongside a true love for innovation.
The Greatest Burger Ever is the perfect way to sample their craft. The patty is seared off nicely while maintaining its juiciness. The buns are buttery and just the right thickness to handle the bigger and messier burgers while not being too bready. The sweet grilled onion, chopped and crunchy bacon, and housemade “Awesome” sauce make this burger shine. American cheese, ketchup, and mellow romaine round this burger off wonderfully.
Next, try the 1809. It’s topped with piquant pickled apples, smoky honey mayo, melty Gouda, and plenty of chopped bacon. The pickled apple is an eye-opener of sweetness, tart, and umami. That innovation is what makes this burger joint so damn good. They also top burgers with sour blackberry compotes, sweet peach and pecan jams, and tomato chutneys. It’s unexpected and delightful
NEVADA: Holsteins Shakes and Buns, Las Vegas
We have to go with Vegas when we’re talking great burgers in Nevada. Don’t get us wrong, there are great burgers in Reno and Lake Tahoe too. It’s just that you can’t beat Vegas’s burger braggadocio.
Nowhere is that bigger or better than Holsteins Shake and Buns (inside the uber-hip Cosmopolitan) where the burgers are big, beautiful, and straight delicious. If you’re going “what happens in Vegas”-level big, get the Al Pastor burger. That’s a beef patty topped with succulent Al Pastor pork and then smothered in habanero cream and topped with grilled pineapple and good chuck on avocado. It’s decadent and delectable.
They also have a “Billionaire” burger with Kobe beef (they likely really mean wagyu) that’s topped with seared foie gras and truffle mayo. It tastes as decadent as it sounds.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Lexie’s Joint, Portsmouth
This place has “joint” right in the name. So, Lexie’s Joint wins points right out of the gate for that. They also win because they serve up the best burgers in New Hampshire with tried and true classic execution side-by-side with innovative toppings that take you straight to food coma heaven.
What makes Lexie’s burgers work is their devotion to the classic American cheeseburger — which they then accent in ways that push the medium forward without losing the foundations. House melted onions, fried pickles, herbed aioli, chipotle aioli, chimichurri, the mysterious Hush-Hush sauce, and horseradish sauce all make these burgers exceptional. The soft, slightly sweet buns, perfectly crispy bacon, and umami bomb mushrooms definitely help.
Lexie’s burger joints are so popular they’ve opened up three more locations and a food truck “burger bus” around New Hampshire in a just a few years. Score one, clearly they really are that good.
NEW JERSEY: Park Tavern, Jersey City
New Jersey is hard to parse. The state meanders from major cities to seemingly endless suburbia to woodlands to throwback beachside tourist towns. It’s incredibly varied and that equates to a lot of great burgers. This time around, we’re going with a dive bar tavern burger because — as diverse as the state is — that feels the most “New Jersey.”
It’s really hard to beat a great dive bar that also serves a fantastic burger. Park Tavern in Jersey City is just that. The burgers are big and hit a sweet satisfying spot of slightly sinful and deeply comforting. The thick patties are seared off exactly and have a nice pinkness to them. The American cheese is always doubled up (how it should always be). The toppings are straight classics with tangy mayo, briny cucumber chips, white onion, and tomato with a nice green romaine leaf. The fresh-baked Kaiser roll really makes this burger shine. It’s light with a nice bready sponge to it that gives a little and soaks up all those delicious burger juices. It’s straightforward and perfectly executed.
Our recommendation: Order a classic burger any way you like here. Then throw The Boss on the jukebox and wash it all down with shots of Jameson and pints of a local craft brew. You won’t be disappointed.
NEW MEXICO: Hall of Flame Burgers, Ruidoso
The small town of Ruidoso is a great place to stop for a burger when you’re exploring the wonders of New Mexico. Hall of Flame is an unassuming burger joint with a killer menu of comforting burgers and great fries.
What shines brightest about these burgers is the straightforwardness of the sandwich. The meat is spot on and cooked to a juicy medium. The lettuce, tomato, and onion are always fresh and crisp. The pickles add a nice bite. And, it being New Mexico, there are plenty of green chilis to add spice to that burger.
Definitely try their “green chili burger” with plenty of melty cheese. It’s one of those burgers that once you eat it, you’ll be craving another for lunch the next day … and the next.
NEW YORK: Shake Shack, Statewide
F*ck it. We’re going with Shake Shack.
We have reasons. Shake Shack is undeniably amazing at what it does. It’s also very accessible. The soft potato bun is always, always perfect. The meat is smash-grilled, giving it an amazing Maillard sear while staying super moist inside. The toppings are spot on and classic. You can’t deny the excellence of the ShackSauce with that slight tang and umami bursts. The veggie option is killer as well. Their breaded and deep fried portobello slab is the best mushroom burger going right now.
Then there’s the SmokeShack. This really is their best burger. The smokey bacon is wonderfully accented with signature ShakeSauce and sweet and mildly spicy grilled red peppers. Then there’s the melted American cheese that hits the perfect melting point every single time. Order it with a malted salted caramel shake and you’re set. You can try to tell us you don’t want that right now. We won’t believe you.
NORTH CAROLINA: Emma Key’s, Greensboro
Emma Key’s in Greensboro is worth the drive. Their burgers walk that fine line between being classically crafted and just funky enough to make them very special.
A real highlight of this place is well-seasoned flattop grill. It makes for a great burger and the perfect place to toast off a bun — assuring a delicious Maillard Effect locking in all that umami flavor. The real winner on the menu is the Big Kahuna burger with melty provolone, seared pineapple, crunchy peppers, crispy bacon, and a dijon aioli. It’s fresh, messy, and full of contrasting textures and complimenting flavors.
Another big win on the menu is the LouLou which is a standard burger smothered in housemade pimento cheese. It’s messy, gooey, and fabulously decadent. If you really want to amp up the mess, add some homemade chili to the cheesy mix. Granted, this will put you square into knife and fork territory, but we think it’s worth it.
NORTH DAKOTA: JL Beers, Fargo, Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks, Watford City
Okay, we know JL Beers is a chain with spots in Minnesota and South Dakota too. But, goddamn if their burgers aren’t the best around in their home state of North Dakota. Pillory us for choosing a chain all you want but we dare you not to love the burgers at JL Beers.
JL prides itself that “all of our ingredients come from someone’s backyard.” That care and localvore attitude translates to a great burger. The meat is freshly ground. The buns are a house recipe. The bacon comes from around the corner.
The Humpty Dumpty burger is their award winner — with an excellently cooked runny egg on the classic cheeseburger. The real star, for us anyway, is the Not Just A Nutter Burger with a healthy smear of peanut butter accompanied by local red pepper jelly, diced jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, and locally smoked bacon. It’s a spicy, umami, cheesy, crunchy mess of a burger that hits you deep in the far-reaches of your burger-loving soul.
OHIO: The Thurman Cafe, Columbus
The grandiosity of the burgers at Columbus’ The Thurman Cafe is wonderous. These burgers are so big they’re a straight up mess to eat. And, while that can be a dealbreaker for a great burger, the burgers at Thurman at just too good to care about the mess.
Every burger here is a 3/4 pound patty(!) — so, already, we’re talking big. They all come fully dressed with shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickle, raw onion, and tangy mayo. From there, things get a little crazy. The standard Thurman Burger adds grilled ham, sautéed mushrooms and onions, mozzarella and American cheese, and banana peppers. Like we said, these are messy and delectable burgers.
You can customize your burger all you want. So add more cheese, more bacon, more peppers, more ham. Hell, add another massive burger patty if you think you can handle it. We won’t judge.
OKLAHOMA: Nic’s Grill, Oklahoma City
Nic’s Grill in OKC is a lot of people’s favorite burger in the world — just ask burger aficionado Colin Farrell. It’s not hard to see why. The taste of this burger is just so…. right. The meat is fresh, local, and wonderfully grilled, giving it a nice crispness on the outside while maintaining the juiciness you want inside.
Then there are the grilled onions swimming in melted American cheese that tops this glorious mess. The buttery toasted bun can barely hold it all together and that’s 100 percent okay. The sharp, tangy pickle, shredded iceberg, and tomato help add a fresh crunch and cut through the heft of the fat from the cheese, butter, and meat.
This is the best messy burger in the country if you ask us. Also, don’t sleep on the fresh cut and lightly fried curly fries with plenty of ketchup.
OREGON: Wild Oregon Foods, Bend
Wild Oregon Foods is one of Bend’s best farm-to-table eateries — focused on supporting Pacific Northwest farms. The High Desert spot is a very new-American diner with a killer menu full of classic continental favorites and that definitely means they have an awesome burger.
The Wild Smashburger literally cannot be beaten. The standard burger comes with the special house burger sauce, melty local cheddar (Oregon kills it when it comes to the cheese game), shredded iceberg, plenty of tangy pickles, and a soft, toasty potato bun. You can get the burger with either an ethically sourced wild bison patty or the famed Impossible Burger patty.
From there you can add avo, a runny sunnyside up egg, fresh local tomatoes that taste like sunshine, and, of course, locally sourced bacon. If you order it all, you’ll get a behemoth burger that’ll leave you dreaming of going back to Oregon for several years to come.
PENNSYLVANIA: Winghart’s Burgers, Pittsburgh
You never really realize how big Pennsylvania is until you drive across it. It’s vast and very varied. The eastern reaches feel rather East Coast in contrast to the woodsy interior. Then the western reaches feel like the heart of the Midwest. So, yeah, this was a tough choice and we ended up going with a spot that feels way more Midwest than East Coast. What’d’ya gonna do?
Winghart’s Burgers in Pittsburgh’s Market Square is a burger worth driving cross-country for. It’s bold, perfectly prepped, and deeply satisfying. The local beef patty is always fresh and grilled wonderfully. The buns are made daily. Then there are the ingredients. Winghart’s does not hold back. Do you want a fried pierogi on your burger? Yeah, no problem. How about a nigh on insane amount of local forest mushrooms, cheese, and bacon? They’ve got you covered.
Pittsburgh does local food by way of comfort food well and Winghart’s burgers are the epitome of that ethos. When you do make it to Winghart’s make sure to try the Nad-Alie. It’s a big burger topped with three kinds of cheese, a homemade potato pierogi, caramelized onion, and burgundy au jus. It’s a monster burger that hits all of the sweet spots.
RHODE ISLAND: Crazy Burger Cafe, Narragansett
Crazy Burger Cafe is a great burger shack. It truly goes above and beyond with a deep-bench of toppings and one of the best vegan options of any burger joint around.
The vegan burgers are the highlight here. Crazy Burger Cafe doesn’t just serve a veggie or black bean burger. They mix it up with each of their burgers. One’s quinoa. Another is tempeh. Another is a mushroom slab. Yet another is their house patty mix of cashews, walnuts, lentils, and zucchini. It diverse and delicious. Then Crazy Burger throws the idea of only “one bun ruling them all” out the window. They serve their burgers on tortillas, English muffins, pineapple bolo buns, naan, and Kaiser rolls. From there, the array of toppings means that you can mix and match amazing flavors into a wholly unique burger experience.
Their meat options are fantastic as well. We love their Fire “Works” Burger with local beef, melty gouda mixed with sweet caramelized onions and red peppers, crispy bacon, and a nice smear of spicy garlic mayo. It’s served on a sweet bolo bun and is damn near perfect.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Husk, Charleston
Chef Sean Brock has changed the game when it comes to Southern food. His mantra of focusing on local, seasonal, and traditional recipes has brought southern cooking out of the stereotypes that plagued it for a century and back into the spotlight — with a massively diverse wheelhouse of cuisine and ingredients. Plus, the dude makes a killer burger that rivals Au Cheval.
Brock’s burger at Husk is as near to burger perfection as a mere mortal chef can hope to achieve. Eating the wonderfully seasoned ground meat with melty American cheese gives you a legit high. The pickle has a balance of tang and crunch that accents the sauce and sweetly grilled onions nestled in the cheese. Eating this burger is a bit like listening to the solo from Comfortably Numb. The first bite is a rush of umami and tangy luxury. As you eat, your excitement mounts like blaring arpeggios that you never want to end. Then, when you take that last bite, mopping up the remains with that perfect bun, everything fades away. There’s no resolution to that guitar solo which makes you need to listen again and again. This is a burger that definitely leaves you with the desire to eat another one — likely immediately.
Husk’s burger isn’t always on the menu, so you’re going to have to plan this one out and get a little lucky. Still, it’s Husk. So even if they’re not serving burgers, the food will surely blow you away.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Dakotah Steakhouse, Rapid City
Rapid City is a hidden gem of a city amongst the sea of grass that makes up the Great Plains. This is the heart of cattle and bison country. So getting a great steak or a great burger is always easy (just like Sunday mornin’). Dakotah Steakhouse greets hungry guests with a life-size welded steel buffalo out front. Inside is probably the most quintessential looking American steakhouses you can image (yes, the steak knives have antler handles).
The burger at Dakotah is bold, huge, and freakin’ delicious. The meat is the star of the show here. It’s a mix of local cuts of beef from down the road and ground in the kitchen (you can also substitute the beef for local bison). It’s grilled to almost unbelievable perfection with a great outer sear encapsulating a succulent interior. Then there’s the cheese. The double dose of sharp cheddar melts into a wonderfully gooey mess that accents the burger perfectly. It’s rare that we’d recommend ordering a burger in a steakhouse, but this is, by far, the exception.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, try the Dakotah Burger. This one eschews the Tuscan bun for two pieces of expertly made fry bread. The fried dough adds a whole new dimension to the ground beef or bison. There’s a nice crunch that leads to a soft, slightly sweet dough that works wonders as a burger. It also has melted cheddar and Monterey Jack which is a big win for the cheese lovers out there.
TENNESSEE: Gabby’s Burgers & Fries, Nashville
Nashville has a lot of great food to offer the weary traveler or troubadour. Hot Chicken is what everyone flocks to Nashville for these days, and that’s great. We love it too (when done right). But sleeping on Nashville’s burger scene is craziness.
Gabby’s Burgers & Fries is an unassuming burger joint. Don’t let the average facade fool you. Inside, they’re spitting straight fire when it comes to burgers. Gabby’s grass-fed burgers are prepped with a love and a little thought. They caramelize the BBQ sauce on their BBQ burger in the broiler, giving it that extra awesome edge.
These are straightforward burgers that are done with exacting precision. American, Pepper Jack, and Swiss cheese dominate the menu alongside thick cuts of smoked bacon, grilled onions, and nice green leafy lettuce. The biggest highlight is a dollop of the housemade chili. It’ll make your burger a superb mess.
TEXAS: Butcher Boys, Nacogdoches
Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to find a good burger in Texas. Whataburger and a long list of breweries, BBQ joints, and diners aside, we have to go with a small, out-of-the-way butcher shop for our Texan pick.
Butcher Boys makes a burger that hits every element with perfection. The meat is wonderfully seasoned (with a proprietary blend) and cooked to juicy perfection. The toppings are all spot on, with nicely sliced red onion and tomato next to in-house made bacon. Add in a few jalapenos and you’ve got a near perfect burger.
If you’re road tripping through east Texas, make sure to schedule a stop in Nacogdoches for a Butcher Boys classic.
UTAH: Lucky 13 Bar & Grill, Salt Lake City
Lucky 13 has a lot going for it in the burger department. They bake their own rolls in-house. They also smoke their own bacon, grind their own meats, and focus on local products as much as possible. This attention to detail makes for an amazing burger.
There’s a reason these burgers are almost always voted the best in Utah. The perfectly pink hand-pressed patty shines brightest when it’s served with ingredients this well looked after. Seriously, you need Lucky 13’s in-house smoked bacon in your life and on your burger. The rest is just cherries on the proverbial burger sundae.
VERMONT: The Worthy Burger, South Royalton
Our love of roadside burger shacks runs deep. Vermont’s great outdoors, cannabis culture, and love of craft everything makes it the perfect spot for a killer burger shack pick.
The Worthy Burger is out of the way, sure, but it’s worth the detour every single time. The bun is a light and fluffy brioche. The patty is a thick beef that’s grilled and seared to juicy perfection. The local beef is always mixed with mushrooms to stretch the meat and lessen its environmental footprint. It also amps up the savory really well. The toppings are locally sourced, innovative, and spot on. The shitake mushroom mayo is the epitome of umami and tang in one smear. Add some pickled local forest mushrooms and you’re in umami town, baby.
You really can’t go wrong at The Worthy Burger. You can go classic with melty cheese, bacon, and a runny egg. Or go modernist with kale, funky mushrooms, and whatever else they dream up that day. Oh, and they have 18 local craft brews on tap to wash down your funky-ass burger.
VIRGINIA: Market Burger Fries & Shakes, Purcellville
Northern Virginia is quickly becoming one of America’s coolest new wine regions and with that comes great food. Market Burger Fries & Shakes in Purcellville makes an outstanding burger that outshines the rest of Virginia easily (sorry everyone else).
Market’s burger has a wonderfully grilled patty that tends to be on the thicker side. It’s delightfully juicy. The buns are also a big reason Market gets the nod here. Their brioche has some nice heft that can handle a big, sloppy burger while still being light enough not to fill you up on bread. It’s a delicate balance they pull off.
Then there are the toppings. Market Burgers are ordered single or double and then you basically build your own. Curry mayo, maple mustard, housemade pickles, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and melty American cheese are just a sampling of the great things you top your burger with. We highly recommend the locally smoked bacon and local egg fried to runny perfection.
WASHINGTON: Burger Express, Federal Way
Washington has a knack for old school “burger joints.” These are usually pitstops off Old Pacific Highway 99 or the 101. They’re often literal shacks or, sometimes, even A-Frames and they’ve all been slinging burgers, fries, and shakes for decades. One of the best — by far — is Burger Express off Highway 99, in the metro-midlands between Tacoma and Seattle.
Burger Express is one of those places that has a laser focus on everything that makes a burger shack perfect: Amazing burgers, brilliant fries, and a lot of options for making the burger your own. Warning: The patties are big by default, so getting a double may well put you into a coma. The meat is thick beef that’s cooked on a grill top (like an indoor bbq) that’s been seasoned for decades, after being given a nice dusting of seasoning salt. The butter-toasted sesame buns are a nice throwback.
Don’t sleep on the Teriyaki Burger (with local Teriyaki sauce and pineapple). And be sure to buy a local Blackberry Shake (though the Butterscotch is pretty awesome too).
WEST VIRGINIA: Secret Sandwich Society, Fayetteville
West Virginia shines pretty brightly when it comes to good burgers. While there are great dive burgers all over the state, we’re going a little more modern with our pick. Secret Sandwich Society in Fayetteville (there’s also one in Richmond, Virginia) is too good to pass up on any road trip through the Mountain State.
Secret Sandwich’s burgers are locally sourced and in-house prepped wonders. The meat is a nice thickness that holds moisture and is precisely seasoned. The toasted brioche serves as the perfect delivery system for a great burger. If you’re not into the local beef, then try out Secret Sandwiches housemade black bean patties.
Where these burgers truly excel are in their toppings and sauces. Their Eagle Burger comes topped with grilled mortadella (!), a perfectly fried over-easy (local) egg, roasted garlic mayo, tangy pickles, crispy onions, and a gnarly layer of melted American cheese. It’s a masterpiece of burger craftsmanship.
WISCONSIN: Wedl’s Hamburger Stand, Jefferson
Wedl’s in smalltown Wisconsin is just a shack on the side of the road that slings damn near perfect burgers. They’re so good, they had to expand into the building on the street to make a dining room. That’s always a strong sign.
Wedl’s burgers have three things going for them. It’s a perfectly constructed burger. The ingredients are fresh, largely local, and prepped with exactness. Lastly, it’s straightforward. You walk up to a window, order your burger however you want it (you want it with a lot of cheese, pickles, and grilled onions), and, then, a few minutes later you’re eating. There’s no fuss and any hint of pretention is far, far away.
Wedl’s is another place that doesn’t toast their buns. Yet, the beauty of the juicy meat, melty cheese, and sweet grilled onions (seriously, get the burger with grilled onions) mean that the bun still works like a charm without the toasting. We’re starting to think this “un-toasted” bun is a Midwest thing.
WYOMING: Crowbar & Grill, Laramie
Wyoming is a massive place with a lot of open country. Finding a great burger is essential in a place so vast. The best there is in a small town called Laramie at a gastropub called The Crowbar & Grill.
The Crowbar takes risks with their burgers. The biggest surprise is the Kingbird burger with peanut butter, banana, bacon, and melted sharp cheddar. It’s delicious if you roll with it. Their vegetarian option eschews the fake meats and instead uses a tempura eggplant wedge which works amazingly well. Then there are specials like the Poutine Burger, a burger with an egg and hollandaise, and pad thai fries — which, yes, yes, and, oh f*ck yes.
The flavors are bold, the meat is locally sourced, and the atmosphere is a fun bar full of locals. What’s not to love about any of that?
WASHINGTON, DC: Rebellion
Full disclosure, we really didn’t know where to put DC in this whole thing. We did know that DC definitely deserves a shout out though. DC is one of those places that feels very southern if you’re looking south of the Potomac but is very northeast if you’re heading towards Baltimore. So, here it stays.
Rebellion is a great whiskey bar that serves a seriously loaded and legit burger. The veteran-owned restaurant hits a lot of sweet spots — who doesn’t want to drink amazing whiskey paired with over-stuffed, delicious burgers? The patties here on the smaller side (four ounces) but that means you always get a double cheeseburger; that’s rad. The cheese is thick white American cheese and always melted to perfection. Wonderfully airy potato rolls and sesame brioche buns hold the whole, messy sandwich together.
Then there are the toppings. The signature burger comes topped with crispy sous vide short rib. It’s f*cking awesome. Their “Legacy Burger” is the special, and rotates some amazing treats like heaps of blue cheese crumble or whiskey-glazed Georgia peaches into the mix. Also, don’t sleep on their veggie option. They eschew faux meat and bean patties for a thick slice of cauliflower steak grilled to burger-y perfection.